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Students fix Foggy Bottom's waterfront problems

Lydia DePillis's constant attendance at community meetings turned up a fascinating plan from the Catholic University Urban Design Studio to improve some of Foggy Bottom's biggest flaws: the mess of freeways between the neighborhood and the waterfront.

A professor and team of students came up with the vision, which has no funding but which DePillis reports they hope the Office of Planning will incorporate into the DC Comprehensive Plan.

Left: Area around 27th and K now. Image from Google Maps.
Right: The same area in the plan. Images via Housing Complex.

The "ramp spaghetti" in front of the Kennedy Center, the freeway under Juarez Circle, the ramps to the Whitehurst, and Rock Creek create a big barrier between Foggy Bottom and the waterfront, and many small park segments many of which are inaccessible or underutilized.

The plan includes new pedestrian connections across Rock Creek and the Potomac, and suggests decking some of the freeway ramps to the Whitehurst to build better parks. It also resurrects the Kennedy Center's ideas to cover the ramps between it and E Street to connect it to the neighborhood.

Of course, covering freeways is expensive, or we'd do it all the time. That freeway is also wider than it needs to be, since it was originally built to continue up along Florida Avenue or K Street. Some of the ramps could probably come down instead of being decked over.

Besides improving the waterfront access, DePillis reports that the plan includes a new entrance to Foggy Bottom Metro, benches at Juarez Circle, a Native American cultural center, and another performing arts center near the Kennedy Center. DePillis couldn't post the entire plan, but we look forward to seeing more!

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Some history of that area's planning:

I would vote for the latter, with a modified design for the Foggy Bottom interchange with a half-orb ellipse terraced staircase down towards the waterfront.

BTW- I like that name, particularly its latter part: CU Urban Design Studio! I wonder when it was established?

by Douglas A. Willinger on Jul 28, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

How does a driver in a car heading west on K Street navigate to Georgetown, now that the "cosmological square" blocks K Street?

And where does the streetcar go?

by Trulee Pist on Jul 28, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

This unnecessarily widens 27th street. There doesnÂ’t need to be a median there. How would the trail north of K street be used? It veers wide left before coming back right for no apparent reason.

It decks over “Potomac Expressway”, but that seems to be the only positive. It’s mostly just a bunch of hardscaping without any direct pedestrian connection across 27th street.

by Alex on Jul 28, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

Is this basically a resurrection of the Kennedy Center's doomed plaza project, circa 2005? Or perhaps just the eastern end of it. There two links have model images that'll remind you of what once was proposed:

by M.V. Jantzen on Jul 28, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

Nice plans; no money.

And the homeless folks that live under the overpasses would enjoy the new parks - especially the cosmology features.

by Fritz on Jul 28, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport


But right now they need to ban bikes on that section of the K st bridge. Dangerous for both cars and bikers. Really nowhere to go with a bike -- although I've seen a few idiots try to get on whitehurst. Guess they followed Google Maps - much like some people I saw on bikes on the GW parkway while running.

Building some sort of trail to connnect K st under the freeway with the rest of K st would be great.

by charlie on Jul 28, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

Where exactly is Juarez Circle? I've never heard of that before.

by Dave Murphy on Jul 28, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@Dave Murphy - It's on Virginia Avenue and 25th Street, near the Watergate. It's a rather randomly located statute celebrating the friendship between the US and a dead Mexican dictator.

by Fritz on Jul 28, 2010 4:30 pm • linkreport

And I wouldn't call those ramps overbuilt.

The only one you could even contemplate taking down was the extra ramp to the Whitehurst, and that serves a very useful function and keeps traffic on the 27th and K intersection. The other one (that goes to L) is essential because it the only way to get to L st from the spaghetti)

by charlie on Jul 28, 2010 4:49 pm • linkreport

Good to see this study posted, discussed and contested! One goal of studies such as this is to initiate a conversation with the community. To answer Douglas Willinger's question about Catholic University's Urban Design program: The program is part of the Master of Architecture professional degree at The Catholic University of America's School of Architecture and Planning (CUArch). While the Urban Design program has existed in its current form since 1998, CUArch's role in urban design and planning goes back to pre-WWII studios with Joseph Miller. CUArch, established in 1911, is one of the oldest in the United States. For more information please check out the website:

by Eric J. Jenkins on Jul 29, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

Actually, it's the Urban Institute Studio (UIS) at CUA.

Dave M. -- Juarez Circle is the least identifiable of the city's roundaboats. It is actually two asymetrical islands with VA Avenue running through the middle. It was in the L'Enfant Plan, but obviously not named after Juarez at the time. The Benito Juarez statue is being repaired by the NPS, who has jurisdiction over DC Circles and Squares.

by Long Time Rez on Jul 29, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

The circle isn't actually in the L'Enfant Plan, which just shows a regular intersection between New Hampshire Avenue and Virginia Avenue:

It's probably good there is now a circle, though.

by David Alpert on Jul 29, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

Great plan. Implement immediately. Do not waste scarce dollars on more studies.

by Jasper on Jul 29, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

Good start, although a roundabout at K Street and 27th street might make more sense. I would like to see more of the residential fabric of Foggy Bottom extended west towards the river.

by GWalum on Jul 29, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

Juarez Circle is somewhat poorly-implemented in that traffic on Virginia Avenue is allowed to make left turns--for example, if you're coming from 23d Street and you're going to the Kennedy Center you can turn left from Virginia onto the circle instead of making a right and going around the circle in the normal fashion. It rather defeats one of the purposes of having circles in the first place.

The point about how I-66 through there is far wider than needed is quite true. I imagine rebuilding the roads would turn out to be almost as expensive as decking over them, though. It's an unfortunate design legacy that has left an bit of a strange tangle of roads. (Try going from the Watergate Complex to southbound I-395 during the afternoon rush hour. The best way is arguably to go over the Roosevelt Bridge, exit at US-29 in Rosslyn, and turn around to take VA-110. US-50 to Washington Boulevard is also an option. There is no direct connection to Memorial Bridge due to the one-way restrictions on Rock Creek Parkway and the left-turn restriction from Old Constitution Avenue to the ramp that leads up to Memorial Bridge. What all this does is to increase traffic pressure on 23d Street and the Whitehurst.)

by Rich on Jul 29, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

Actually, the Wikipedia map in your link is incorrect (and needs to be replaced/fixed) and not the "L'Enfant Plan." It is a Thackeran Valance (if you look closely you can see the signature under the title block in the upper right-hand corner) copy of Andrew Ellicott's design for DC.

(From DC City Pages: The City of Washington, D.C.)
"President Washington commissioned Pierre L'Enfant, a French architect, to design the new city. L'Enfant's original name, Washingtonople, didn't last; however, parts of his dream for the layout still exist today, including the Washington Monument.

L'Enfant was fired partially into the construction of Washington, D.C., and was replaced by city surveyor Andrew Ellicott (whose father founded Ellicott City, Maryland). Ellicott replaced L'Enfant's name on the design map with his own, and construction work resumed.

L'Enfant had remodeled the New York City city hall to serve as a temporary seat of federal government when he was asked (1789) by Washington to submit plans for the capital city at Washington. His plans were presented in 1791, but he antagonized Congress and was opposed by Thomas Jefferson. In 1792 he was dismissed. He was offered in payment of his services 500 guineas and a lot in Washington, which he refused.

In 1887, L'Enfant's plans were exhumed from the archives, and in 1901 the design of the capital was developed along the lines that he had laid down."

F.M. Thorn and B.A. Colonna of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, went back to the original Plan and created a superb facsimile in 1887 because the L'Enfant Plan was in such deteriorated condition even at that date. If you check the original plan and the facsimile at the Library of Congress, Juarez Circle is in both and was indicated as Circle No. 4.

CUA Professor Miller, whose UIS students produced the Foggy Bottom Plans, has researched and produced a book ( with the citations for this information on pages 36-37 and 44-47.

On a separate note, at the 27th and K intersection shown above, that is a one-dimensional paving pattern that includes three new crosswalks. The CUA plans include additional pedestrian safety features and bicycle accommodation.

by Long Time Rez on Jul 30, 2010 9:09 am • linkreport

Any changes that make the area more pedestrian and bike friendly are most welcome. I hate the feeling of riding along and suddenly feeling like I've stumbled onto a freeway. It would be nice to cover that freeway trench and open up new routes to the Kennedy Center.

by Matthias on Aug 2, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

But right now they need to ban bikes on that section of the K st bridge. Dangerous for both cars and bikers. Really nowhere to go with a bike -- although I've seen a few idiots try to get on whitehurst.

What's the speed limit there, @charlie?

Any ideas *why* Whitehurst is so dangerous? It ain't 'cause it's a grizzly bear breeding preserve. It's drivers won't obey the law. Cycling there is perfectly safe--as long as there aren't out-of-control scofflaw drivers treating it like it's I-495.

Just so we're clear, your position is that, since universal lawbreaking among car drivers makes it dangerous for cyclists, we should ban *cyclists*? How about drivers keep it in their pants?

by oboe on Aug 2, 2010 6:20 pm • linkreport

@oboe, The Whitehurst is one of those segments of Interstate Highway that did get built in the District. As such, I'd be surprised if it was illegal for a cyclist to go on the Whitehurst like it is on all road that are built to interstate highways standards. You'd think common sense alone would be enough for someone on a small metal frame with a couple of wheels to know they didn't belong there ... But obviously not. I have a friend who owns a hula-hoop ... and thinks HE should be allowed to use it wherever he wants ... including the Whitehurst. What do you think? Do you think he'd be nuts to bring his hula-hope on to a road way built for highway speed traffic?

by Lance on Aug 2, 2010 9:52 pm • linkreport

*I'd be surprised if it wasN'T illegal ...

by Lance on Aug 2, 2010 10:41 pm • linkreport

As such, I'd be surprised if it was illegal for a cyclist to go on the Whitehurst like it is on all road that are built to interstate highways standards.

Ah, Lance! You and I don't often agree, but this is below your usual quality of work.

No need to engage in weaselry: either the Whitehurst *is* an interstate highway...or it's not. Your claim that cyclists are banned from the Whitehurst because bicycles aren't allowed on officially designated interstate highways, and the Whitehurst is "built to interstate highways standards" is pretty thin gruel.

The street I live on is plain blacktop--there are no painted lines whatsoever. And it's quite narrow. In fact, it looks a lot like a multiuse path. You could even say it was "built to multiuse paths standards". And as far as I know, cars are banned from *all* multiuse paths. Therefore, cars should be banned from my street. QED.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the reason bikes are banned from interstates is that the posted speed limit is 55-70 mph. That's not the case with the Whitehurst. Whitehurst is dangerous to other road users entirely because drivers are incapable of following the plainest of laws.

That plain fact seems to upset a small subset of drivers, but I'm not quite sure why. If I had to guess, I'd say it's upsetting the delicate mental balancing act needed to maintain the mass delusion that cars aren't out of control in this city.

by oboe on Aug 3, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

1- The Whitehurst is NOT built to interstate highway specs, with DC ridiculously lacking in such highways. It was to become a part of I-266 with a 'twinning' and presumably the existing viaduct re-striped from 2/2 to 3 plus shoulder, but that has not happened.

2- In some states, such as Colorado, bicycles are allowed on the shoulder, and have been seen on the mountainous sections of I-70 there west of Denver, at least a decade ago.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Aug 3, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

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